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Polis Report

Pac Hell

By Traci Hukill

Just a few more sleepless nights for members of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC): On March 31 they'll decide yea or nay on Southwestern Bell Corporation's (SBC) proposal to gulp down Pac Bell sugar daddy Pacific Telesis in its entirety. If the CPUC gives the nod to the merger, it will be the fourth-largest in the history of the nation. The new monstrosity would control more than 20 percent of all access lines nationwide and would serve 50 million customers--many of them disgruntled, if the two companies' service records are any indication.

Opponents point to the ugly threat of monopoly, of course, but it's the two companies' dismal performance records that really set them apart from the usual crowd of communications megaliths. Jockeying for last place among the seven so-called Baby Bells in areas of customer service and use of advanced technology like fiber optics and digital switching, Southwestern Bell and Pacific Telesis each have shown a stirring commitment to mediocrity that opponents fear can only grow more tepid if the two join forces. At least Pacific Telesis acknowledged its backwardness and in 1993 implemented the "California First" program, a $16 billion, seven-year effort to improve its infrastructure. Southwestern Bell, on the other hand, has made no comparable effort and remains predictably silent about its plans to continue Pacific Telesis' self-improvement course should the CPUC approve the merger.

A coalition of angered citizens sees that if necessity is the mother of invention, monopoly may well be the domineering dad of stagnation. A petition drive opposing the mega-merger is taking place online, with info available in the "Staking Out the Public Interest" white paper.

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From the March 27-April 2, 1997 issue of Metro

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